Phnom Penh municipality’s deadline for villagers to sell their property on Koh Pich or face legal action and possible eviction passed on Friday without a final resolution, as argument continued over City Hall’s compensation package for those who decided to sell-up, residents said.
Koh Pich villagers also said they are waiting on the Ministry of National Assembly, Senate Relations and Inspections to visit their disputed island to investigate the municipality’s handling of the land sale deal, which has pitched legal aid lawyers representing the landowners against City Hall officials.
An Veng, a representative of villagers living at the southern end of the island, said the municipality’s final offer of $5.25 per square meter was insufficient but residents would sell because they feared losing everything if the case goes to the courts, as the municipality has threatened. The villagers and real estate agents said land on the island is worth in the region of $24 per square meter.
“If we don’t take $5.25 we will face the lawsuit,” An Veng said.
Though residents have agreed to accept the offer, the size of each resident’s land, however, must be calculated correctly if they are to accept, he added.
The municipality’s measurements of the island and the landholding are incorrect, he added.
Chum Sam Oeun, a representative of villagers living on the northern side of Koh Pich, said that two families out of 15 had agreed to sell their land to the municipality out of fear of losing everything in court.
“Nobody wants to sell. But [they sold] because of fear that they will file lawsuits to the court. They sold with tears and sorrow,” Chum Sam Oeun said.
“The courts can be bribed. We will lose because the court is corrupt,” he said.
Villagers are waiting on officials from the inspection ministry—charged with investigating government corruption—to visit the island, Chum Sam Oeun said.
Chum Sam Oeun said he believed the municipality plans to sell the island to the Canadia Bank for hundreds of dollars per square meter more than what they will buy from the villagers. “I don’t care. I just need a piece of land to live on and some to sell for $15 per square meter,” he added.
Pa Socheatavong denied the villagers’ allegations that they had been threatened into selling their land and said he was tired of discussing the issue.
“I don’t want to talk about the same story again and again. Let them criticize. The case is moving forward,” he said,
Ouk Kimleng, a lawyer for the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, said Koh Pich villagers have agreed to the municipality’s price for their land, but they were now refusing to sell, as they do not agree with the municipality’s measurement of their properties.
“There was an agreement but now there is a disagreement over the land size,” he said.